REVIEW: ‘Freaky’ is a blast of body-swapping goodness

Director Christopher Landon puts a fun horror twist on ‘Freaky Friday’

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Kathryn Newton as Millie in Christopher Landon’s “Freaky,” released Friday, Nov. 13, 2020. Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Bradley Hinkson

Slasher films don’t have as much of a cultural impact as they once did. 

Sure, many classics of the genre still stand the test of time, but they aren’t churned out as much as they once were. So it feels special whenever we get one, especially when it’s one as excellent and unique as “Freaky.”

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Millie, played by Kathryn Newton, is a shy and petite teenager who finds herself the latest victim of The Blissfield Butcher, played by Vince Vaughn. Though Millie is put in a situation that could be far worse than death: she’s switched bodies with the Butcher. Stuck inside his body, and the Butcher stuck inside her body, Millie has 24 hours to fix the curse or she’ll be stuck in the Butcher’s body for good.

“Freaky” has such a fun and exciting concept that it sets itself up for disappointment. Thankfully, director Christopher Landon not only utilizes the concept in a fresh way but also isn’t afraid to let the film have a beating heart at its core and be more than just a one note film. 

For anyone who is a fan of the “Happy Death Day” films, which I very much am, they will be more than happy to see Landon still being very keyed on how to perfectly balance horror with comedy. 

While the film’s body swapping concept could carry the whole film on its own, it also works as  a love letter to the slasher genre by reveling in its traditional tropes: the silent hulking killer, the typical high school jock and bullies and the curse that, of course, has to come from some non-white culture. 

Under the direction of someone more cynical, these tropes could come off as tiresome and uninspired. Landon couldn’t be any less cynical. It’s obvious he loves the slasher genre and wants to stretch past the limitations of it. He works well within the genre but also knows when to have some fun with it. 

What if the killer could easily find more victims by hiding in plain sight? It’s such a blast to see Landon have a blast, especially when he injects some obvious references and Easter eggs to other classic slashers like “Friday the 13th” and “I Know What You Did Last Summer.” 

Landon also isn’t afraid to get that R rating. The kills here are brutal, especially one involving “Succession” actor Alan Ruck and a buzzsaw. I think you can use your imagination to wonder how that turns out.

Kathryn Newton as Millie and Vince Vaughn as the Blissfield Butcher in Christopher Landon’s “Freaky,” released Friday, Nov. 13, 2020. Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Landon is even able to inject some genuine emotion into the film. Very similar to Tree in the “Happy Death Day” films, Millie is dealing with the loss of a parent. Millie lost her father and must attempt to patch up her relationship with her mother, but also try to stand out more in public. 

Of course, Millie is able to work on those and grow — it just took a body swap with a slasher killer to make it work. Despite the strange and unusual circumstances to get to that character growth, it still feels genuine because Landon and even the cast treat it with sincerity.

The other element that could really make or break the film is the performances. Can these lead actors not only play each other well, but also have their performances not feel like one joke? With Newton and Vaughn, the answer is a resounding yes. 

Newton is as sweet and likeable as she needs to be before Millie switches bodies, but she, no pun intended, absolutely kills when she needs to be the Butcher. She nails the large quiet hulking attitude of a slasher killer despite being in a much smaller body. Though it’s Vaughn who is the real highlight of the film. 

It’s obvious that Vaughn took less of the route that Jack Black took with the recent “Jumanji” films, where he was playing the most stereotypical idea of a teenage girl. Vaughn gives a more nuanced performance that doesn’t feel like just a caricature of a teenage girl. Well, as nuanced as anyone can be when you’re a grown man acting like a teenage girl. 

He’s genuinely hilarious, but also doesn’t treat his performance as a joke. He has genuine emotional moments with Millie’s mom and crush, that help the film be more than a film just built around its core slasher and body switching concept.

Misha Osherovich as Josh, Melissa Collazo as Ryler, Kathryn Newton as Millie and Celeste O’Connor as Nyla in Christopher Landon’s “Freaky,” released Friday, Nov. 13, 2020. Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures.

There is also something so unabashedly queer about this film. Whether it be because of Millie’s friend Josh, played by Misha Osherovich, who is overtly gay, or how the film revels in tongue-in-cheek campiness at parts, celebrating that aspect of gay aesthetics and culture. 

The film even has fun with the idea of gender performance and knows there is some enjoyment to be had to let a woman act what’s considered to be masculine or a man act what’s considered to be feminine. Since the film comes from a director who is gay, it’s refreshing to see a more queer style and sensiblity to a mainstream genre film. 

“Freaky” is a blast from start to finish. As much as it is a fun and witty twist on the body-swapping story, it’s also a genuine love letter to the slasher genre. 

It does come as a major bummer that this film had to get a release in the middle of a pandemic that is entering another huge wave of cases because this could have been a major hit under the right circumstances.

“Freaky” is only playing in theaters and drive-ins currently and will be available for video on demand Nov. 30.